Early Dog Shows, Part I

The love-hate relationship that exists between the kennel clubs and large segments of the dog fancy community is certainly not new.

By | Posted: Thu Jun 23 00:00:00 PDT 2005

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Early show promoters had initially dismissed the possibility that exhibitors might resort to subterfuge for personal gain because dog show prize money was paltry in comparison to the sums offered on horse races, and the possibility of betting on dog shows was completely dismissed. "There is a good deal of apeing the Jockey Club now-a-days, but dogs and horses are not on a par. There is no chance of betting or winning a fortune in a dog show ring. It behooves the Jockey Club to be extremely strict, for there are such a host of blacklegs on the turf [...] but things are quite different in the kennel world. The whole thing is done for pleasure. The prize money is miserably small, will hardly in fact, pay expenses, yet here a man enters a dog just a few days over or under his registered age and he is disqualified right off the reel by a self elected body of gentlemen. Surely, such a thing cannot go on forever." (The Canine World)

In fact, betting became a well-established facet of every major dog show, and some of the special prizes were substantial. During his first year in America, the aforementioned Pointer, Sensation, repor tedly earned enough prize money to support a typical family for an entire year. Prizes dispensed at the second annual Westminster show included $5,000 in gold coin. (More than $100,000 in today's currency.)

Special prizes not only translated into immediate cash and publicity but also often led to greater returns, which could be critical to the survival of an obscure breed.

"The long and the short of the whole matter, which tends to keep him [the Old English Sheepdog] in the background, is the wretched system of management of the OES club, the miserable prizes and meager classifications provided for him at our leading shows. The value of a dogand a valuable dog must be popular in these business daysis easily computed by the value of the possible prizes he can win, and the consequent stud fees he can command. Make your prize money good, and you can make your breed valuable!" (The Canine World)

Early on, clubs recognized the significance of alluring prize money to attract entries. This looked good on paper, but paying out these large sums was sometimes a problem for show promoters. The Kennel Club sought to alleviate this by requiring show committees to obtain the signatures of guarantors to ensure payment of all prize money. Defaulting became grounds for suspension. "The sentence undoubtedly has a beneficial effect in restraining clubs and societies from overly reckless promotion of shows," according to The Kennel Encyclopedia (1907).

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